by Peter Graves, Winter Olympic Games Announcer and CXC Writer
First a bit of background, tell me about your skiing background please.
I started skiing as a child. By the time I was in first grade, my brother and I had a 5k loop we skied two or three times after school. There was no grooming machine, so we had to make the trail ourselves each time it snowed, first ski the main track, then for the poles, before we could start training. We skied to school often. On the wall of each classroom, there was a bar chart of each kids km skied that was updated weekly. Watching my bar towering over the others as a result of all the 5k laps was a source of pride. Each school then submitted their average km skied for a national competition. By age 9, we started racing in the “point race” every Wednesday night in the lit trail 200 meters from our house. The point race was a great way to get the kids to race every week with a year-end award party at the ski club hut. Our family also had a mountain cabin and we went there most weekends and skied for 2-3 hours at a time.
By age ten we started weekend racing county wide and went through the “system” to race regionally and nationally by age 14. I came to the University of Utah on an NCAA scholarship, where we won the NCAA and I became the women’s coach the last two years there. After college I only skied occasionally until I started racing the Birkie in my late thirties.
What was the path you took to your business?
I have been in several businesses. A few years back, I started a construction company with an office five minutes from our farm which is five minutes from the Greenbush ski trails. The idea was to work a bit less and train more. It didn’t quite work out that way as far as working less, but I try to keep up with the training reasonably well.
And now you are President of CXC, how do you see the organization and its growth?
The mission of CXC is simple: “To grow the sport of XC skiing”. The strategy to achieve this however is quite complex. For the sport to grow, there needs to be the synergy between high performing elite athletes and youth recruitment. Ultimately, I dream of a seamless system with strong youth programming throughout the Midwest, a funnel based junior development system that feeds the US Ski Team. CXC is working hard to support club programs and to introduce kids to the sport through offering skis to school classes. I believe the growth of the sport depends on substantially increasing this level of activity. We of course have many levels in between, and the Masters Team is a key element. Not only do the Masters Skiers offer direct funding for us, they are also leaders and trend setters in their communities. I think another key element to the growth of the sport is to have core venues where we offer early man-made snow and trails that follow international specs. I think this is especially key for our junior program, where we aim to supplement clubs’ programs and provide the best technical input possible to juniors who then move on the be world class athletes such as Jessie Diggins who had the benefit of our junior program. Masters Skiers are the backbone in so many ways because the sport today is “top heavy” age wise. I believe CXC can be ten times its current size in ten years based on this approach.
What are your most important goals to achieve?
First, we are working to increase our kids introductory program tenfold over the next five years. We purchase skis and distribute them to schools in partnership with local clubs who provide the coaching expertise. Last year we introduced 2,477 kids, this year it should be close to 6,000, and we hope to increase this each year moving forward so that in five years we will cover 25,000 per year.
Second, we want to substantially increase youth events and race programs throughout the Midwest by working with and helping developing local clubs’ programming. We aim to have a vibrant, wide spread club program with an extensive schedule that allow kids to compete close to their local environment. Another part of this goal is to host more national and international races / championships and roller ski races in the Midwest so young people can get first hand visibility of and inspiration from top level athletes.
Third, we have an ambitious goal of mirroring our able-body programming with adaptive athlete programming for youth and at the highest competition level. Our work with Veterans through our VA partnership; the distribution of sit-skis to ski venues throughout the Midwest; hosting the IPC World Championship this winter with four of our own athletes participating are great strides toward this goal.
Fourth, we believe it is critical to have venues with reliable man-made snow starting early November every year and trails with topography that allow for FIS and IPC homologated trails. We are aiming to have an Olympic and Paralympic Training Site with two satellite locations geographically distributed. These locations will be used for training camps and regional, national and international races.
Fifth, we are working toward a clear, visible and seamless talent development pipeline. We are want to streamline our regional junior athletes so that it is “the next level” for the best kids in the Midwest. We then aim to coordinate with the other regional organizations and the USSA so there is a well-functioning national system perhaps akin to that of US Swimming.
Sixth, but not least, we want the CXC Team racing program to partner with clubs to produce the best recruitment for the US Ski Team so we can all watch other athletes like Jessie Diggins, who developed through CXC’s talent development system, become international stars who serve to motivate our youths and Masters.
How would you like to see CXC five years down the road?
I hope to see CXC having developed the sport in the Midwest to be much more mainstream by achieving the goals discussed before. I am inspired by the progress we have made so far and this makes me believe that we can truly develop each element of CXC. A great testament to CXC’s success in regional development is our certification of 200 coaches over the past three years. Coach certification is an important example of our work that enhances each skiing community in their efforts to provide XC skiing venues and programming.
Raising funds to do all this work is very important, how do you do it?
CXC has developed a broad range of fundraising capabilities. I suppose I can take a little credit, but truly it is Yuriy’s tenacity, talent and creativity that is driving the fundraising today. We have key donors, grants, industry sponsors, on-line fundraising and a very strong and loyal group of Master Skiers who contribute directly and spread the word in their local communities.
In many ways CXC is like a public trust — it belongs to the people — it’s a mission that must keep expanding and growing to meet the needs of all levels of skiing.
Yuriy is the ultimate go-getter, he works so hard and never tires, what are your impressions of him?
I first got involved in CXC because a supporter of Yuriy and CXC, Kine Torinus, insisted that I meet him. I was impressed right away, and Yuriy has continued to develop his leadership abilities along with growing CXC. We are so fortunate to have him. He is so unique because he is a rare combination of a successful entrepreneur and a selfless and passionate leader in the ski community.
Why do you believe so much in cross-country skiing?
I believe endurance training, at any level, is key to health. Skiing is a great way to get outdoors in the winter, when biking and running is not so attractive. It also offers a great challenge to always improve technique, so it is never boring. For families, it is a terrific way to be out in nature together, and allow kids to develop a relationship with nature and exercise at a young age. I of course also love the elegance and athletic abilities of the world’s best skiers, and believe it is great to have top performing athletes serve as inspiration for the rest of us to stay fit and improve.